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McAfee: When Your Brand’s Namesake Goes Rogue
By: Andrew Turner
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Off the grid, literally. McAfee the person and the brand have gone off the proverbial grid the past couple of months. YouGov’s BrandIndex put out a recent report that since early December there has been more negative news of the brand than positive news. What has changed in that time? The erratic behavior of its entrepreneurial namesake John McAfee and his attempts to outrun the law.

The brand’s BuzzScore is now at its lowest point in five years. McAfee, who has been on the run from police in Belize after he was reported a “person of interest” in the murder of his neighbor, has not been actively involved in the company that bears his name for over 18 years. How, then, has the brand distanced itself from the man who founded the company since 1994 when he left the company and how was it so easy for the brand to be re-associated with him in 2012?

McAfee had diversified its brand in the time since McAfee’s resignation. Between the years of 1997 and 2004, the company began to develop its brand under a new name of Network Solutions. However, after disposing of several business groups the company returned the brand’s focus to that of its namesake to stress the firm’s security roots. So the negative trade-off was putting equity into the name of its founder who had nothing to do with the business aspect of the company. The problem with building equity in the name of someone, who is essentially a normal citizen like you and me when it comes to the business, is the risk of that person going rouge.

Ted Marzilli, the global manager for BrandIndex, put it poignantly when he asserted, “If you are going to keep the name of the founder of your company after it's sold, you had better make sure he does not get into trouble later on." He correctly assessed the risk in revolving a brand’s name around an actual person’s name. If your brand has a namesake it is in the best interest of the brand for that person and their decedents to have a continual vested interest in the company.

McAfee, which is now a division of Intel, has stated it has not considered changing the brand's name, claiming they have distanced the company and brand enough from John McAfee that its customers know that the brand stands for the highest level of network security. But maybe they should consider it, because if BrandIndex data is correct, and the main contributing factor to the brand’s decline is John McAfee’s erratic behavior, maybe they haven’t distanced themselves as much as they think. The general consumer is not as informed as companies perceive and many consumers probably cannot make the distinction that McAfee Security and John McAfee are mutually exclusive.

Are there any companies whose namesakes, or decedents of their namesakes, have negatively impacted the brand that bears their name?

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About the Author
is a marketing professional, copywriter, and graphic designer from Philadlephia. You can contact him here.
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